2
The First Laureate: John Dryden

IN 1668 John Dryden was thirty-seven and he had been before the public as an author for a number of years. He was a man of good Midland stock, born at Aldwinkle All Saints, Northamptonshire, on April 9, 1631, and educated at Westminster and Trinity, Cambridge. He inherited some slight income from his father (who died in 1654) and at first leaving the university seems to have been content with comparative idleness. He certainly did not turn early to letters; a few schoolboy verses represent all he could do before the age of twenty-seven -- an age when, if W. J. Cory may be credited, 'one's feelings lose poetic flow'; but Dryden's poetic flow was yet to come.

He made a sure start with his 'Heroic Stanzas on the Death of Cromwell' -- originally, but less familiarly, 'A Poem Upon the Death of His Late Highness Oliver, Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland' ( 1659). This is remarkable for its moderation and good sense (a few prosodic excesses apart) and is, moreover, an accomplished poem of which a practised poet need not have felt ashamed. Had Dryden in the ten years or so since the wholly inadequate exercises of his schooldays, written verses which are now lost?1

It is possible; for the writing of poetry was a common occupation for a gentleman, and the heroic stanzas show an easy familiarity not inherent in the rather pedestrian 'Gondibert' stanza which Dryden borrowed from Davenant:

He fought, secure of fortune as of fame, Till by new maps the island might be shewn; Of conquests, which he strewed wher'er he came Thick as the galaxy with stars is sown.

____________________
1
Naturally he did a good deal of translating as school exercises: he remarks in a note to his translations from Perseus '. . . I translated this satire . . . at Westminster; . . . it and many other of my exercises of this nature in English verse, are still in the hands of my learned Master, the Rev. Dr. Busby.

-21-

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The Poets Laureate
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 11
  • I - The Poets Laureate 13
  • 1 - Before the Laureateship: Jonson and Davenant 15
  • 2 - The First Laureate: John Dryden 21
  • 3 - Thomas Shadwell 32
  • 4 - Nahum Tate 44
  • 5 - Nicholas Rowe 55
  • 6 - Laurence Eusden 62
  • 7 - Colley Cibber 68
  • 8 - William Whitehead 79
  • 9 - Thomas Warton 92
  • 10 - Henry James Pye 109
  • 11- Robert Southey 124
  • 12 - William Wordsworth 145
  • 13 - Alfred, Lord Tennyson 153
  • 14 - Alfred Austin 166
  • 15 - Robert Bridges 178
  • 16 - John Masefield 185
  • II - Selections from the Works Of the Poets Laureate 193
  • Ben Jonson 195
  • Sir William Davenant 198
  • John Dryden 200
  • Thomas Shadwell 204
  • Nahum Tate 208
  • Nicholas Rowe 213
  • Laurence Eusden 220
  • Colley Cibber 225
  • William Whitehead 230
  • Thomas Warton 235
  • Henry James Pye 243
  • Robert Southey 248
  • William Wordsworth 254
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson 260
  • Alfred Austin 267
  • Robert Bridges 272
  • John Masefield 277
  • Select Bibliography 281
  • Index 285
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